Nisidhes Stifadhes - 27 August 2011
It is pitch black but for the light of a fishing boat moored ahead of us, a lighthouse is sweeping lazily across the sky occasionally picking out lightning on the mainland; the Milky Way (or milky street as an Austrian lady called it) arcs across and the stars are shining ready for inspection. I hear the waves lapping, a breeze is breathing softly into the cabin, the temperature is at last bearable and there is an extraordinary noise of birds, a cross between a corncrake and a bullfrog. I wish I could see them. There were no birds apparent today even though we were ashore on both islands. Plenty of cartridges lying on the ground, perhaps that’s why they were lying low.
Katakolon - 25 August 2011
Lights everywhere, heat radiating from a huge area of tarmac where sit thirty four buses. Three enormous cruise liners crowd the harbour ready to disgorge their passengers for trips to Olympia; an irascible harbourmaster, nut brown face, mobile features at this point showing outrage. With exaggerated gesticulation, stamping of feet and virtual levitation he made it plain that we were NOT to come in where we were headed – we British were all the same, never called ahead, just came in !!! We obediently tied up further up the line of boats. The next day after our trip to Olympia and some shopping and lunch, we had a text from the neighbouring boat to say the harbour master was on the rampage and was threatening to charge us £20 an hour for every hour after 2pm we stayed – how ridiculous when it was only £10 a night anyway. We hurried back and did the quickest get away ever, dodging him and thereby doing him out of massive histrionics. We anchored off the harbour for the next night – it is cooler that way.
The two places couldn’t be more different. I love these islands. They are more like the Scottish islands of Canna, and Muck but hot and sunny. They are twenty miles west of mainland Greece and around the same south of Zakynthos. Not thought significant enough to be mentioned in our Lonely Planet Greek Islands book, the bigger island, Nisis Stamfani has a monastery on it. It is more of a castle really looming pale solid and rectangular over the low lying scrub. The walls have been reinforced by metal bars to protect against earthquake and there is evidence of repair after just such an event. In days gone by pirates were a big problem and outside the entrance is a modern bass relief sculpture depicting monks gazing nobly heavenwards as scimitars threaten to slash their throats. This probably commemorates a particularly vicious attack by Turkish pirates which left all but two monks dead and the church plundered of its gold and silver. The surviving monks escaped and took the remains of St Dionysius by boat back to Zakynthos to tell them what had happened. Since then, anything of any importance is in the museum there, including St D but as I understood it his skin remains here – I must have got that wrong!!
We opened the old door and gingerly walked under the ancient rusty portcullis propped up by an old tree trunk to find ourselves in a courtyard of lovely mellow old stone, a drainage channel running down the middle. On a stone ledge at the right side was a fat packet of raisins, a couple of sesame biscuits and a part full dusty tray of tinned tomatoes, (more on this later) To the left was a well and a room that housed three or four bread ovens. Next to that another door opened into a tiny round domed chapel, the ochre paint peeling off the walls, ikons propped around and accoutrements of the 21st century reading glasses and a Lidl carrier bag lying on a table, bibles were open and the candles reflected light on the tiny little censers hanging from the ceiling. Going down into a vaulted cellar there was a jungle of old items including the huge mill stone for grinding the corn, wooden plough shares, straw in the rafters above, the whole place is a museum in itself and it appears stuff has just been left for years and years.
Around the courtyard and up the stairs were the living quarters, the monks’ cells and the dining room. The main church in disguise as a fortress rears above us up stairs to the right. We went up and looked up above the door and saw a hole for boiling oil or water to threaten would be attackers.
The numbers of monks in the monastery has waxed and waned over the years and now there is only one remaining. We met him. He was old and he lives on gifts and with god. He had the long hair and beard of the orthodox priest but sported a baseball cap and a waist support. Later we saw him up a ladder clearing some of the greenery that was sprouting from the stonework. People who come and visit the island, if they know about him, bring gifts which explained the raisins, tomatoes etc. The warden told us that he cannot keep up with all the things that are brought, amongst which was a blender, a series of plastic bags that did not appear to have been opened, an empty boot box – so obviously these had proved useful! He is partial to sweets and if we go again I will bring him something
On the little island Nisis Arpilia there was a tumbledown house, rafters and floor collapsing and nearby a little chapel, a crudely hewn chancel screen between us and the altar. It always amazes me that these isolated little places are tended to and obviously used; candles seem always to be lit and incense burns. Yet no one lives on the island and few visit. Hanging neatly on hooks were brushes and dustpans. I wondered whether the fishermen had been and whether it was dedicated to a saint protector of fishermen.
We went to Katakolon so that Selkie Dancer could be tied up safely while we visited Olympia. After an interesting train journey (more a tram than a train) into the lush interior passing fields of tomatoes, corn and melons, we arrived at the modern village of Olympia full of cafes and tacky tourist tat. The archaeological remains ramble over a large area; trees shade the old stones which vary in shade from dark basalt to the lightest sand. I found myself in the place from where the athletes enter the stadium. They had to pass by the etched names of those who had been found guilty of infringement of the rules of the games – an ancient ‘name and shame’! I read later that Nero was a prime example but I guess being who he was, he managed to escape being pilloried. I could imagine the athletes running down the alley into the stadium, I walked it and as I left the crowds far behind me I could imagine the scene, the audience cheered me, the hills encircled the stadium and I felt the history and grandeur of the place.
We are now in Pylos and are hiring a car tomorrow before continuing our journey around the Peloponnese.
Jinti and Andy
Competing for dock space at Katakolon
Jinti in the Olympia tunnel
Andy - UK’s white hope for discus
Monks up for the chop !
Inside the court yard and as seen from the sea
S.Y. Confetti (Austrian) at dusk off Nisis Stamfani
Earthquake repairs and first floor entrance
Portcullis, studded door and remaining monk
Bread ovens and paddles